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Tourism industry may have to live off domestic travel until fall, minister says

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The tourism and hospitality sector has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. With uncertainty over the Omicron variant, the federal industry minister said the return of international travelers could still be a long way off.

“During the darker days of the pandemic, Destination Canada, which normally takes its money and markets Canada to the rest of the world, took that money and marketed it inside Canada, to travel,” he said. Tourism Minister Randy Boissonnault told CBC News.

“I think at least [the third quarter] by 2022, we’re going to have to see more. “

In Canada, domestic travelers account for 78% of tourism spending. But international visitors spend an average of $ 1,047 per trip, while domestic vacationers spend less than a quarter of that.

“Domestic travel is a critical step in getting our industry back on track, but [it] will not be able to fill the revenue gap resulting from the shutdown of international travel, ”Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, told CBC News.

The sector has contracted by more than 50% during the pandemic, going from a $ 105 billion a year industry before the pandemic to around $ 53 billion worth now. That’s a 40 percent drop in domestic spending and 87 percent in spending by international visitors.

Industry stakeholders like Potter say the industry will face three significant challenges over the next year. The first is simply to survive until the visitors return. The second is the impact of ongoing restrictions on travel, while the third is a labor shortage caused by the pandemic.

In 2020, with the country on lockdown and the border closed to international travelers, the tourism industry was forced to lay off 43% of its workforce – around 900,000 jobs, according to Destination Canada, the former. Canadian Tourism Commission.

Some of those jobs have since returned, but in the first ten months of the year the industry’s workforce remained below 360,000 compared to the number it employed before the pandemic.

“We had to lay off a lot of the workers we had and many of them won’t come back,” Susie Grynol, President and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, told CBC News.

“They will not come back, not because their heart is not in hospitality, but because we are still not, 19 months later, in a position to rehire all the workers as we are now in low season . “

“They told us they would not come back”

Industry insiders say the labor shortage is not just due to short-term weak demand that will correct itself once borders reopen – it represents a permanent move away from the sector by workers keys.

“Our industry has suffered reputational damage because people see us as unstable because we have been subjected to so many restrictions,” said Beth Potter, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

“We actually lost employees. They told us they won’t come back to the industry because they don’t see our industry as a stable place to pursue their careers.”

Potter said the losses include both frontline staff and other positions, such as cleaners, dishwashers, lawyers and accountants.

Empty streets in Banff after Parks Canada restricted vehicles amid a wave of COVID-19 infection in the province. (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press)

Grynol and Potter said this phenomenon was experienced by Canadian domestic tourists this summer who reported that hotels were setting occupancy caps due to understaffing and restaurants were canceling lunch service during peak hours. season.

“If we manage to preserve this sector and keep it alive (…)

“We will have such a demand for Canada that our biggest challenge will be the workforce and making sure we can meet all of that demand.” “

To ensure Canada is ready, the industry wants the federal government to make adjustments to the temporary foreign worker program and immigration streams to meet the demand for key workers in the sector.

Using students, immigration to fill the gaps

They also want to see the revival of programs targeting recent graduates or international students in seasonal jobs in the tourism industry to fund travel globally.

Boissonnault said he was open to the idea and has already taken action on the immigration front to ensure his industry has the workers it needs.

“In the first week after being a minister, maybe on the third day, I was already talking with [Immigration Minister Sean Fraser] and [Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan] about it, ”Boissonnault told CBC.

“This is an active conversation within our government and we will be addressing this issue in 2022 with stakeholders to really answer this long term question.”

The resort of Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver is deserted in 2020 after the province’s ski resorts closed in an attempt to contain the transmission of COVID-19. (Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press)

Stakeholders say they need to undo the reputation damage caused to the industry by the pandemic in order to attract new workers.

“We need to get out there and encourage Canadians to believe this is a great industry to work in,” Potter said. “We’re going to have to start influencing not only parents and teachers, but students as well, from middle school age on, so that there are great opportunities in our industry.”

Boissonnault said he wanted to encourage young people to see jobs in tourism as “great careers that you can have all your life.”

Rebuilding that workforce requires some predictability – and simplifying travel restrictions would help, according to industry insiders.

“We want to make the movement of people across the country, inside and outside the country, as smooth as possible. [by] really make sure we have a system across Canada and we don’t have 13 or 14 different systems, ”Potter said.

Boissonnault said that while he would also like to see more predictability, provinces can be expected to take different and “completely legitimate” approaches to travel restrictions.

“We have to show that traveling, when you do it right, is safe. That has to be our message. We also have to keep people traveling safe and make sure we take the right steps – safety first, then travel. “, did he declare.


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